Scientists devise new, more accurate peanut allergy test

Peanuts are the most common cause of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reaction, and allergy cases among children have risen sharply in recent years. (Reuters)
Updated 03 May 2018
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Scientists devise new, more accurate peanut allergy test

  • Current tests, in use for decades, are based on looking for antibodies — but they cannot differentiate between sensitivity and true food allergy
  • The new tests focus on mast cells, which play a pivotal role in triggering allergic symptoms, such as skin reactions or constricting of the airways

LONDON: British scientists have developed a far more accurate blood test to diagnose peanut allergy, offering a better way to monitor a significant food hazard.
Peanuts are the most common cause of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reaction, and allergy cases among children have risen sharply in recent years. Britain’s Food Standards Agency estimates up to one in 55 children have a peanut allergy.
In contrast to existing skin-prick and other blood tests that produce a large number of false positive results, the new diagnostic has 98 percent specificity, researchers from the Medical Research Council (MARC) reported on Thursday.
Current tests, in use for decades, are based on looking for antibodies — but they cannot differentiate between sensitivity and true food allergy.
As a result, doctors often have to conduct a further round of testing in which patients are fed incrementally larger doses of peanut in a controlled hospital setting to confirm their allergy, a process that can itself trigger anaphylactic shock.
So-called oral food challenges require the presence of an allergist and specialist nurses and they cost around £1,000 to conduct. The new blood test is five times cheaper.
Dr. Alexandra Santos, an MRC scientist and pediatric allergist at King’s College London, who led the research, believes the new test will not only save money on testing but also reduce by two-thirds the number of stressful oral food challenges that are needed.
The development of the new test follows advances in science that allow the detection of biological signals from much small blood samples than in the past.
“The technology has evolved. Now we have better ways to look at immune cells and to see how they respond,” Santos said.
The new tests focus on mast cells, which play a pivotal role in triggering allergic symptoms, such as skin reactions or constricting of the airways.
In a study involving 174 children, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Santos and colleagues showed the new test tracked closely the severity of allergies, with the worst-affected patients having the most activated mast cells.
The team is now discussing plans for the widespread roll-out of the test with an unnamed commercial partner. There are also plans to adapt it to other foods, such as milk, eggs, sesame and tree nuts.
There are currently no approved drugs for peanut allergies, although two biotech companies — US-based Aimmune Therapeutics and France’s DBV Technologies — are working to develop rival treatments.


The Six: Get cooking with these Middle Eastern-flavored cookbooks

Updated 21 October 2018
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The Six: Get cooking with these Middle Eastern-flavored cookbooks

DUBAI: Whether you’re a tried-and-tested chef or a novice cook, try something new in the kitchen with these newly released, Middle Eastern-flavored cookbooks.
‘Together: Our Community Cookbook’
In September, Meghan Markle, Britain’s Duchess of Sussex, lent her backing to this charity cookbook that funds a community project set up by women seeking somewhere to cook in the wake of London’s Grenfell Tower fire.
‘Feasts from the Middle East’
The cookbook was created by Tony Kitous, the founder of successful UK-based Lebanese restaurant chain Comptoir Libanais, and features more than 100 recipes.
‘Baladi’
Joudie Kalla, the author behind “Palestine on a Plate,” is back with more tantalizing Palestinian recipes in the newly released cookbook.
‘The Mezze Cookbook’
From roasted cauliflower and tahini to pomegranate cakes, this book offers more than 135 recipes from across the Middle East.
‘Authentic Egyptian Cooking’
Abou El-Sid, one of Cairo’s most famous restaurants, presents more than 50 of its classic recipes in this treasure trove of a cookbook.
‘Suqar’
Ending on a sweet note, this recipe book, the title of which means sugar in Arabic, offers more than 100 desserts inspired by Middle Eastern classics, including puddings, pastries and everything in-between.